Jonathan Fryer

Archive for March, 2011

Featherstone Flies the Flag for Equality

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th March, 2011

There have been many surprises since Britain last May got its first Coalition government since the Second World War. Who would have thought that the Conservative David Cameron would be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Nicolas Sarkozy in leading the international acceptance of the Responsibility to Protect vis-a-vis Libya? But there have also been big wins in the more personal arena, too, largely thanks to the Liberal Democrat influence in government. This is particularly visible in the field of LGBT rights. Britain has been leading the way on marriage equality, for example, as well as on the recognition of the rights and contribution of transgender/inter-sex people — with the feisty LibDem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, Lynne Featherstone, flying the flag for equality in diversity. This innovation is being followed with interest on both sides of the Atlantic, as became clear in discussion at the annual dinner of Bermondsey and Old Southwark Liberal Democrats at the Yellow House in Surrey Quays last night. It was encouraging to see how many young atendees there were. Where the party is active, young people are rallying round, despite the rumpus over tuition fees.

Link: http://southwark-libdems.org.uk

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Macdonald’s and Politics

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th March, 2011

Islington Liberal Democrats have established a reputation for hosting the most stylish Pizza and Politics in London, especially when these are hosted in the spacious surroundings of Julie Horton’s home. They also get an impressive range of speakers, the latest, last night, being Lord (Ken) Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions and now a LibDem peer. He asked to speak according to Chatham House rules, so unfortunately I can’t report what he said, but there was a lively discussion about gains for civil liberties since the Coalition government was formed, many of these thanks to the tenacity of Liberal Democrats. I stressed my belief that the Party really needs to highlight these ‘wins’ (which are in sharp contrast to the assault on civil liberties that occurred under New Labour) especially in the run-up to next year’s London elections. Labour is too often getting away with painting the government as ‘Tory led’, as if the LibDems have no influence at all, and in places like Islington there are many current or potential Labour voters who care deeply about civil liberties and need to know what has actually been achieved by Liberal Democrats since May 2010.

Link: http://islington-libdems.org.uk

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Mark Williams Speaks up for the Baha’i

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd March, 2011

One of the more exotic consequences of Lembit Opik’s failing to retain Montgomery at last year’s general election was that the Baha’i Community in the United Kingdom lost an entertaining compere for their annual Naw Ruz (‘New Day’, i.e. Spring) reception on the House of Commons terrace. Lembit was an active champion of the cause of the Baha’i, who continue to suffer terrible persecution in Iran. Last night, this year’s reception was instead hosted by the Ceredigion LibDem MP Mark Williams, who gave apologies from veteran human rights campaigner Lord Avebury (aka Eric Lubbock) and reminded everyone that even at this time of celebration of the new awakening of Spring — marked by the Zoroastrians as well as the Baha’i, and various ethnic groups such as the Kurds — there was a sombre undertone, namely the imprisonment of seven Baha’i leaders in Iran for the simple reason that they were serving the religious and social needs of their beleagured community. Iran’s Islamic religious leaders despise the Baha’i because the Baha’i see spiritual truth in many places and acknowledge the contribution of prophets and visionaries of various faiths. But their central message is one of peace and community, which makes their suppression all the more outrageous.

Link: www.bahai.org.uk

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Libya and the Responsibility to Protect

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th March, 2011

UN Security Council resolution 1973 regarding Libya is a milestone in the development not only of the concept of the Responsibility to Protect but also the realisation of its practical implications. Muammar Gaddafi had shown such flagrant disregard for the well-being of his people, in his brutal attempts to suppress the popular uprising against him, that the international community could not just sit back and watch a massacre take place. This of course goes counter to a longstanding principle in force really since the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648: the concept of the sovereignty of the nation state — in other words, that other countries should not interefere in the internal affairs of sovereign states. That is a principle that both Russia and China are keen to see maintained (because of their fears over restless regions such as Chechnya and Tibet) and explains why they both abstained on Resolution 1973. At least they did not veto it, thus giving a green light to international action, with UN backing. Britain, France and Lebanon took the lead on this, with the United States coming on board soon after. At least two other Arab states — the UAE and Qatar — have also indicated their willingness to be involved in the operation to protect the Libyan people. But inevitably the main thrust will come from NATO, with France and Britain again taking the lead. Like many who opposed the Iraq War, I feel that UN action on Libya was essential. But the challenge will be to bring a swift end to Gaddafi’s attacks on the rebels without things escalating or becoming too protracted. And then ideally Gaddafi must go — perferably pushed out by his own people.

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Stephen Gilbert Speaks Out on Yes2AV

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th March, 2011

With only six weeks to go to the Alternative Vote referendum in the United Kingdom, MPs who are in favour of the switch to a fairer voting system are beginning to speak out loud. Last night, Stephen Gilbert, LibDem MP for St Austell and Newquay, was guest of honour at a social event put on by Holborn & St Pancras Liberal Democrats in London and urged everyone present to seize this opportunity for change. Were the vote to go the wrong way, it is unlikely there would be another chance for electoral reform for a generation, he claimed. Steve is right that the LibDems must not leave the campaigning only to non-party-political groups, although cooperation with them is of course very important. Although Ed Miliband and some other leading Labour figures (including London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone) have come out in favour of AV, 200 Labour MPs are said to be opposed. So is most of the Conservative Party, the BNP (!) and some absurd purists such as Crossbench peers David Alton and David Owen who argue that people should vote No on 5 May because AV is not STV (the single transferable vote). Of course most LibDem campaigners for electoral reform would prefer STV, but the Conservatives made clear that was not an option when the Coalition Agreement was negotiated. So we have to work hard for the second best, AV. There has been a fear among some senior figures in the party that parts of the electorate would be turned off if the LibDems are seen to be too prominent in the Yes2AV campaign. But there is an even greater danger: that we could lose the referendum if they are not.

Link: http://www.yes2av.org.uk

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Stephen Lloyd Regails the Kettners Lunch

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th March, 2011

One of the most heartening results of the May 2010 General Election was the Liberal Democrats’ capture of Eastbourne, after long years of trying. The new MP, Stephen Lloyd, had fortunately had enough experience of he world not to be fazed by the grandeur of the House of Commons and once the Coalition Agreement had been signed, realised that both he individually and the LibDems as a party would be in for a bumpy ride for a while. Moreover, as Stephen made clear in a speech to the Kettners Lunch Club today at the National Liberal Club, until one gets elected as an MP, politics can be an expensive business, not only in terms of money but also regarding one’s personal life. It demands a great deal of self-sacrifice. However, in Eastbourne he has had the advantage of a strong local team of helpers, as well as a well-run LibDem Council. He believes the party will retain control of Eastbourne at the local elections in May and probably should do quite well across parts of the country where the Conservatives are the main opponents. What the next general election will bring will depend entirely on how successfully the Coalition has delivered on its promises to get Britain’s finances in shape, though of course the introduction of AV — assuming the referendum delivers a ‘Yes’ vote — could produce some very interesting results.

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Reviewing the Lisbon Treaty

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th March, 2011

The London branch of the European Movement decamped to my home district of Mile End last night, for a seminar on the Lisbon Treaty 16 Months On. Valsamis Mitsilegas, Professor of European Criminal Law at Queen Mary University of London (which hosted the event) emphasized how the Treaty stresses core European values, notably a respect for fundamental rights, the rule of law, and democracy, but much of his presentation was about the specific area of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA). Since Lisbon, JHA has been subject to more qualified majority voting and co-decision (in which the European Parliament has a say in decision-making, not just the Council of Ministers) than was the case in the past. He cited three areas in which there could be said to have been a particular transfer of sovereignty from the national to a European level, namely economic migration and the status of third country nationals; substantive criminal law, including the definition of criminal acts; and judicial cooperation, building on earlier experience of the European Arrest Warrant.

The other speaker at the seminiar was Richard Corbett, a former Labour Member of the European Parliament who now works for the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy. He argued that the main objective of the Lisbon Treaty was to make the workings of the European Union and its institutions more effective and more democratic. As part of the improved efficiency, the role of the Council President had been enhanced in three main ways: (1) the term of office of the person concerned was extended from six months (non-renewable) to two-and-a-half years (with the possibility of one renewal); (2) the incumbent now does the job full-time, rather than in addition to what was often a heavy national, ministerial responsiblity; (3) there is a proper secretariat in Brussels to assist him.

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The Sheffield LibDem Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th March, 2011

The Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference this year was on Nick Clegg’s home territory of Sheffield, which was partly why there was such tight security — the so-called ring of steel — round the City Hall, to fend off protestors who accuse him of ‘selling out’ to the Conservatives. Actually, there were nowhere near the expected number of demonstrators, even if some were the predictably nasty Trots with their unsubtle chants of ‘Scum! Scum! Scum!’ and even ‘Nazis!’ Others were much more reasonable, including a number of students understandably aggrieved that the LibDem policy against university tuition fees fell by the wayside during the course of the Coalition Agreement negotiations. One small group, bizarrely, were Libyans praising Muammar Gaddafi. Party President Tim Farron, who was omnipresent, fuelling press speculation that he already has his eyes on the leadership, insisted the LibDem policy on this hasn’t changed, but I don’t think the electorate would put much credence in such a pledge second time round. As several speakers in this morning’s excellent debate on party’s principles pointed out, we must avoid such ‘train crashes’ as the tuition fees disaster in the future. The mood was distinctly upbeat, nonetheless, even before Nick Clegg’s speech. Government Ministers and party managers might be unhappy about the conference’s rejection of the government’s planned NHS reforms, but most rank-and-file members were not. Shirley Williams and Evan Harris were amongst those leading the charge on that issue and the outcome certainly makes the statement that the LibDems have retained their distinct identity more credible. My own activities this time were limited to the fringe, outlining some of the work I have been doing with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in eastern Europe and the Arab world at a meeting organised by LDEG (Liberal Democrat European Group) and speaking briefly from the audience at a LDFP (Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine) discussion on the question ‘Should we speak to Hamas?’  O’ll be filing a piece on the Bankers’ Bonuses emergency motion for the next issue of Liberal Democrat News

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Danny Alexander Charms Islington

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th March, 2011

The UK Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander — who has self-assuredly accepted his mocking nickname of the Ginger Rodent — was guest of honour at a gala dinner last night put on by Islington Liberal Democrats at Fredericks Restaurant in Camden Passage. He set out some of the achievements of LibDems in government, including the forthcoming rise in the income tax threshold to £10,000, and confirmed the fact that many Labour-run councils are cutting some frontline services unnecessarily, either because they are sitting on banked resources which they could spend, or because they are deliberately exacerbating public resentment at central government cutbacks (which were themselves the result of over-spending by Labour for years) by making cuts that will hurt. Danny restated his own deep commitment to European integration and reminded people how the LibDems have managed to help tame the rabid Eurosceptic Tory right. He looked forward to some robust debates at the Liberal Democrats’ spring conference in Sheffield this weekend — though delegates are likely to have the gauntlet of Trots and other protestors who argue that the party has sold out.

Link: http://islington-libdems.org.uk

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LibDems Must Fight Leicester South Hard

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 5th March, 2011

As was widely expected, Sir Peter Soulsby was today selected as Labour’s candidate in the forthcoming mayoral elections in Leicester — a position which he must have a strong chance of winning, as he has been MP for Leicester South for the past six years, was a leading city councillor for years and Labour is riding high in the polls. But if the name Leicester South rings bells in the public’s minds it is probably because in 2004 there was another by-election in that constituency, which was won by the Liberal Democrat candidate Parmjit Gill, who certainly benefited from the anger at Tony Blair’s taking Britain into the Iraq War. He failed to hold the seat at the general election less than a year later, but that should not dissuade the Liberal Democrats from taking this by-election seriously. In other words, fighting it hard, not putting up a token campaign (despite having an excellent candidate in Dominic Carman) at Barnsley Central. As was shown at Oldham East and Saddleworth in January, the party can perform extremely well, even in the current climate. This opportunity must not be missed, not least to show the media that the LibDems are not a busted flush, as Labour is spinning.

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